Councilor Threatens Suit Against Who Owns Tulsa

Tuesday, March 3rd 2009, 10:34 pm
By: News On 6

By Emory Bryan, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- Mission-minded Tulsans rallied on Tuesday night at a midtown deli.  The group, Who Owns Tulsa, formed after a controversial zoning decision last year.

The group says city government has let them down.  Now they're crusading to take back the city.  They say responsible citizens speak up for their neighbors, and for just causes.

Now, if the group has been successful at anything, it's stirring up controversy.  A city councilor is threatening legal action over comments made by the leader of Who Owns Tulsa.

Neighborhood activist Julie Hall is a frequent critic of city government.  But, she says she really doesn't have free speech because a city councilor threatened to sue her over her comments. 

Tulsa City Councilor Eric Gomez believes the threat was justified.

"The allegations were malicious in nature and they were definitely libelous in my mind and in several attorneys' minds," said Tulsa City Councilor Eric Gomez.

Hall leads Who Owns Tulsa, a group that came together to oppose an apartment building for people receiving mental health care.

Gomez supported it.

"And, that has been a pattern that we've seen with him and his voting, when his constituents voice their concerns, he votes the other way," said Julie Hall.

Gomez claims Hall's criticism crosses the line.

"I think I'm owed an apology for the misstatements and misrepresentations of fact," said Tulsa City Councilor Eric Gomez.

Gomez's attorney called Hall's comments reckless and malicious and said they have exceeded all legal boundaries.

A first amendment lawyer says that's a difficult claim for a politician to prove.

"If you're going to get into the business of politics you're going to take some hits," said First Amendment attorney Doug Dodd.

Dodd says that's because political speech is well protected and only an outrageous claim, such as a false accusation of a criminal act, meets the standard for libel or slander.

"The Supreme Court and the Oklahoma Legislature has put a lot of stepping stones and roadblocks in the way of people winning those kinds of cases," said attorney Doug Dodd.

Gomez says he wants an apology and doesn't plan to sue.     

Hall says she just wants the freedom to criticize government, without facing the threat of a lawsuit.

After the threat of a lawsuit, Hall says she started limiting what she said about Councilor Gomez.

The councilor says he no longer plans to sue.